Saturday, August 8, 2015

If I was 22 – Love yourself, “CHOOSE” a Boss & Re-size your Perspective

If I was 22”, what advice would I give to my younger self? Here are my thoughts…..

22 is an interesting age! We have crossed teenage chronologically, but its dilemmas of unique identity and self-worth may persist. It’s an age where we announce our arrival on the world’s stage as a capable individual. Yet, we are still wet behind our ears as an adult. An “adultling” or a fledgling adult – that’s what I like to call it!

We may still be struggling to understand ourselves, what we stand for, what we value and what we want out of life. The remnants of parental expectations linger around, the peer pressure continues, and the desire for approval flickers on and off. This can result in confusion and anxiety, leading to a lot of self-doubt. Even the smartest people may have self-doubts, as these are an inherent part of human reality.

22 is an age where many of us may not be comfortable in our own skin. And the first thing I want to tell a 22 year old is “Love yourself”. Psychologist Carl Rogers defines self-love beautifully as “a quiet sense of pleasure in being one’s own self”. Accept yourself as you are – warts and all. You may not be perfect, none of us are. But, you have unique gifts and abilities, and it’s up to you to leverage your strengths to get what you want from life. When I say love and accept yourself, it also means to be careful about who and what you accept from the world as advice or opinions. People with fragile self-esteem get tossed around like a piece of wood in the rough sea of the world’s opinions. One would rather be a well steered boat, which does get impacted by the waves, but it can either adapt itself by making course corrections, or withstand the stormy waters and continue in the right direction.

It’s important to make “what will people think” un-important in your life. “What will people think” must not be the top-most criteria for your life’s decisions. What people think about you is their business, and leave it to them. There is a caution here! Don’t confuse “people’s opinions” with constructive feedback. Constructive feedback from others is important, and should be valued. Remember the difference between constructive feedback and “people’s opinions”. The former is well thought out by the giver, given with genuine care and concern about you, and is in your best interests.  The latter lacks most of these attributes and can be quite hurtful at times.

So, add a dash of irreverence to your life. Just like a dash of spice which makes food delightful. Don’t overdo the irreverence as that can make you arrogant, but just the right amount of it can make you a playful and confident risk-taker. What you think about yourself is what matters most. If there are genuine areas of improvement, work on those, and become a person you yourself love, respect and admire. When you love someone, you take care of them, protect and nurture them. So, do that to yourself as well. That is self-love. And, if your Self is aligned with the universal principles of integrity, perseverance, compassion, courage and humility, it’s unlikely that you will veer very far off the right path.

“CHOOSE” a boss
At 22, many of us find it difficult to resist the allure of a fancy job title, global travel, money, status and fame. I am not a proponent of self-deprivation, and I consider all these desires as natural and healthy. But, I wish to add one more item to this checklist, while looking for the first few jobs in your career. And that is the “right boss’!  We all know a boss can make a huge difference to your engagement level at work. But, in the early stages of your career, the right boss is even more important. The first few bosses that you have in your career can be excellent mentors, encouraging and nurturing you in the right direction. 

Try to work with a boss who is passionate about people development. Someone who will take you under his wing and teach you the ropes. If you are unlucky to have not-so-good bosses in the early part of your career, you can lose out on a significant amount of learning, guidance and wisdom that come from a well-seasoned professional. When trying to choose between two or more comparable jobs, let the scales tip in favour of a better boss. It will be “a better decision” in the long run.

Don’t look for a good job, look for a good boss!

Re-size your perspective
A piece of candy was very important when you were 5 years old. At 15 years of age, it was’nt. Not merely a re-sizing of your body, but a re-sizing of your perspective has also taken place. Didn’t get into the college you wanted, didn’t get the job you wanted, the one who studied less than you got better grades! All these can seem extremely overwhelming at the tender age of 22. But, it is also true that these situations will slowly even out over the long marathon of life.

Keep this in mind “Life is not a sprint race, it is a marathon”.

Even if things go wrong (as they will every once in a while) opportunities will still come your way, if you stay on the lookout for them. At a young age, we haven’t really developed our coping skills, and something that gives you sleepless nights at 22, may not even catch your attention at 32. Time is your ally in life’s journey. Develop a larger, more holistic perspective of life, work and play. Don’t allow setbacks to disillusion you, instead learn from them to emerge sharper and stronger. Stay resilient to bounce back from whatever life throws at you.

Come what may, it will NOT be the end of the world. The sun will still rise tomorrow morning, and it will be time to make hay once again! 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Baptised by Butter Chicken - Confessions of a Converting Carnivore

“Did you do justice to the chicken?”

An oft administered admonition to children. It means to lick every shred of meat off the bone. At least, the poor chicken can attain salvation after giving up his life to satisfy your hunger. Some humans have one thing in common with chickens – both can cluck continuously. While this constant clucking can drive one crazy, the connoisseur of chicken is more concerned about the second commonality between humans and chickens – the twain have only two legs.

A chicken leg is one of the favourite lollipop treats for kids. Battle lines get drawn up over the dominion and subsequent devouring of these poor limbs.  Many a night are spent gazing at the countless stars, and wondering how beautiful life would be if chicks had countless legs. Ahem! There is a pun intended here. It’s not just the chicken enthusiasts who dream about “chicks with countless legs” – the human male species abounds with similar fantasies. Someday, I will write a Ph.D. thesis on the human male species, but for now let’s avoid any digression, and stick with the chicks (the eating variety).

The Punjabis are a peculiar pack of meat-eaters. Every celebration from “Happy Birthday to Happy”,  “Lucky getting lucky enough to pass 5th grade” , “Lovely falling in love” and “Pinky fitting into her size zero pink pyjamas” are celebrated with a toast to our favourite bird – the hapless chicken. It is cooked via the Indian spice route, and bathed in golden butter to produce the national dish of Punjab – Butter Chicken.

A couple of decades ago, the stork dropped me into exactly such a household. I have often suspected that the stork had been to a Punjoo wedding feast that day, and was high on butter chicken drowned by a Patiala peg. The buttery bliss he experienced made him lose his sense of direction, and he accidentally dropped me into a Punjabi family. Whereas, I was originally intended to be born in a pious Jain family practicing ahimsa (non-violence) of thought, speech and action. So, now you know why I am the way I am. It’s the fault of the family and the stoned stork! Else, I would have been so perfect!

As soon as I opened my eyes after birth, I was baptised by the holy Butter Chicken, as were all my siblings and cousins. We grew up surrounded by butter chicken and its many cousins like chicken tandoori, chicken masala, chicken tikka, fried fish, mutton curry so on and so forth. 

When I was about 5 or 6 years old, my parents lived on the outskirts of a small town in Punjab. It was a large, beautiful house with a lot of outdoor space. Such an abundance of open space may lead one to experience the beauty and tranquility of nature, and ponder upon philosophical questions like the meaning of life. In our case however, the open space was viewed as nature beckoning the piteous chickens. My ever-efficient fauji father promptly utlilized the space as he thought best - by keeping a poultry! He was delighted that he could fatten up the birds his own way, and have an endless supply of the birds for his own brood.  I think there was a hidden agenda here as well. He probably wanted to ensure that his children were baptised completely into the Cult of the Carnivore. None of his progeny should ever become a lowly grass eater (ghaas phoos khane waale).  That would be an affront he would not be willing to bear. 

And then one day, when the birds were clucking joyously and trying to spread their wings in short flights, the strings of compassion began to stir in me. A lame chicken was about to end up as the piece de resistance on the dining table. I begged my father to have mercy on him, and let him live. I did succeed, but only in robbing Peter for Paul. There was another poor bird which showed up as the show-stopper for dinner. Temptation and compassion are’nt very good friends. That was a lesson I learned that night, as I competed for the chicken leg and licked the gravy off my fingers.

For the next eighteen years, Compassion knocked at my heart from time to time only to be locked out by Temptation. Then one day, it knocked very hard, and shook me. It was the day my elder son was born. My heart ripped apart as I saw the helplessness of a new-born from such close quarters. I thought of the similar helplessness of the animals that satiate our hunger. This time Compassion won the battle, and I was able to give up eating non-vegetarian food. I started practicing ahimsa of thought, word, action and became a saint. Free from the karmic cycle of birth and re-birth, my soul soared and became One with the Almighty – it was the quintessential “lived happily ever after”, end of story.
If only pigs could fly!

Compassion and Temptation continued to battle within me, and Compassion did have a winning spree for 3 years. I thought I had finally overcome my desire to eat meat, when suddenly all hell broke loose. I was invited to a Coorgi wedding! Surrounded by heavenly meat dishes, it was akin to an onslaught of rain on parched land. I was like the shark from “Finding Nemo” – who keeps telling itself that “Fish are friends, not food”, and then goes berserk when it sniffs blood. I was back at square one, competing for chicken legs and licking gravy off my fingers. And Compassion was defeated yet again, as Temptation strutted around claiming victory for another ten years.

It did’nt help to have a family that loves eating non-vegetarian food, and will cook it especially for you. I was often told that “Sher mar jaayega, magar ghaas nahin khayega” (the lion will die, but it won’t eat grass). Actually, this is my father’s favourite line whenever I refuse to eat chicken. Nevertheless, my grit has turned the tables on the treacherous Temptation for about three years now. Ninety-nine out of hundred times Compassion wins. The one time that it loses is when the aroma of a tempting meat dish drives me to temporary insanity.
Yes, I know a miss is a miss – whether it’s by a minute or by a mile! Yet, I continue in my pursuit of ahimsa – Hum honge kaamyab, Hum honge kaamyab ek din……

Disclaimer - This is merely a narrative of the author's personal experiences. There is no disrespect intended towards any community, nor towards people's food preferences. The article is written in good humour, and does not intend to convey anything more than being an interesting read.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Half a kilo of happiness

Four eggs, 2 packets of milk, 1 pack of biscuits, and half a kilo of happiness. This was the shopping list 13 year old Harsha’s mother gave him. She was an interesting mother. One who believed in using innovative puzzles to sharpen her son’s brains. Her shopping list would usually contain one mysterious item. If Harsha could crack the code and unravel the mystery, he would earn Rs. 50.

When Harsha started learning chemistry in school, his mother asked for 1 packet of NaCl (sodium chloride) in the list. Sadly, Harsha could not decode it, and lost this battle of wits to common salt. Another time she asked for cottage cheese dumplings in sugar syrup. Harsha was smart enough to figure this out, and strode home triumphantly with a can of rasogollas in his hands, and two of the dumplings in his mouth.

Today, he was in a hurry for school and didn’t glance at the list, as he slipped the slip of paper in his pocket. The same old, grey building, usual subjects, and the same boring teachers. Eventually, the day’s quota of school was done by 1 p.m., and he set off on his bicycle to the neighbourhood grocery store. 

Glancing at the shopping list, he started reading out the items loudly to the busy shop keeper.
Eggs, milk, biscuits, happiness…..he read out cheerfully. The shopkeeper asked him to repeat the last item. This time his mother’s mystery shopping item seemed to be “half a kilo of happiness”. Fumbling with the eggs, the shopkeeper gestured questioningly. The boy repeated… “happiness”, hoping the shopkeeper would help with decoding the mystery. The shopkeeper replied with a sneer, “we don’t have that brand of soap here”. Failing to catch the wisecrack, Harsha thought that happiness was a brand of soap. He asked the shopkeeper if this particular soap was out of stock, and how long it would take for the refill to come.

It was lunch-time, and the hungry shopkeeper didn’t have time for a cheeky schoolboy “searching for happiness in his neighbourhood grocery store”. Handing over the other goods, he retorted angrily that the happiness soap was’nt sold in his shop, and in so far no one had supplied it. The boy was free to check out the other stores.

With his bag of eggs, milk and biscuits, Harsha trudged along to the next shop in search of the happiness soap. The shopkeeper chuckled and said that happiness is more likely to be a pill than a soap, and would be found at a medical store, not in a grocery store. At the medical store, the chemist laughed his head off, and said that if someone supplied those pills, he himself would be the first one to take them.

Harsha could see Rs. 50 slipping out of his hands, as he failed to crack this puzzle. He looked up the dictionary to check if his own understanding of happiness was correct. He was right, the dictionary defined happiness as a state of being happy, it was a feeling and not a thing. How could his mother ask him to purchase a feeling? Feeling quite miffed with this mother, he told her that he could’nt find happiness in the grocery store, and added “How can you purchase happiness, Mom? It’s a feeling, not a thing”

His mother smiled and said “And that is exactly what I wanted you to learn! This is a very big lesson in life, my son. Happiness cannot be purchased in any shop, it has to be worked at within. It is not a bar of soap to wash all your sorrows away, nor is it a magic pill that you can buy at the medical store. There may be some times in life when happiness is effortless, but there are many other times in life that it takes hard work. Throwing up your hands in the air and saying that you are not happy will not lead you to happiness. Instead, make your happiness your own business. No one else will take the responsibility for keeping you happy. That responsibility is yours and yours alone”

Mukta woke up from her sleep, and her dream ended. She had been dreaming about teaching her son this important lesson of life. Harsha was still asleep, and Mukta went to wake him up to get ready for school.

Later, when she was by herself, she started writing down her thoughts, which she intended to share with her son as he grew older. She wrote “People and situations may become unpleasant from time to time and chip away at our cheer. But a chronic unhappiness syndrome has two root causes – laziness and fear. Both these are conquered with introspection. We need to remember that inside us is an endless fountain of joy, and only we have the power to turn the lever off and on. The obvious keys to open the gridlocks of laziness and fear, are hard work and courage. Easy to preach, but tough to practice. Hard work and courage can keep this fountain of joy flowing. And, it is this freely flowing fountain of joy that nurtures our passions, hopes and keeps us alive.”

Then, as an afterthought she wrote “And one more thing – Happiness is the child of freedom”. She wrote this and smiled to herself. This insight was the reason she had named her son Harsha! ……..Harsha, the son of Mukta

(Mukta means free in hindi, and Harsha means joy)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The rapture of being ridiculous....without the fear of ridicule

Have you ever had a conversation in gibberish? Whispered sweet nothings, yelled expletives, expressed surprise or disgust using meaningless combinations of sounds. Try it out, and it will be one conversation you will thoroughly enjoy. You will learn how mere body language and meaningless sounds can evoke different emotional reactions in you, and in others.  In no time, you will be engaged as deeply as one would be in a dialogue with a Bangalorean auto driver (on the right fare!).

Conversations in gibberish were a part of a theatre workshop that I attended recently. The experience was amazing! Imagine speaking utter nonsense and drivel, and actually being cheered and encouraged to get innovative with dishing out nonsense.

Hey, wait a minute! That doesn’t fit into the world I come from – my corporate world. In this world, appropriateness is the order. Prim n proper does it. Neat, straight lines, perfectly boxed emotions, not allowed to spill over, lest they trespass the holy confines of propriety! The secure cover of a straitjacket can sometimes be suffocating as well. It keeps you safe, but it also doesn’t let you catch the wind in your sails. Theatre is one of the places to do just that - let your sails billow in the breeze, as you float on a sea of uninhibitedness. 

And, uninhibited we were. Encouraging the shy to express themselves in full swing is one of the multiple objectives of theatre training. One of the exercises included having participants act as experts on topics as bizarre as pigeon droppings to tantric sex, and the other participants asked the “experts” equally bizarre questions on these topics. The spontaneity of the responses helps develop presence of mind, and confidence in expression. The laughter is a welcome side-effect. Finding spaces that let you be ridiculous without the fear of ridicule is not very easy in an “appropriate” world. And, theatre gave me the sacred space to be ridiculous.

Theatre allows you to go “over the top”, and E-X-P-R-E-S-S yourself. So, if you’re feeling stifled with life and unable to crack the shackles of a humdrum existence, then theatre will set the stage for you to break free. One of the best ways to do this is to play an “over the top” character, and have the vicarious pleasure of living the character’s life. For a regular corporate “suit and tie” types, it can be a liberating experience to play a road ruffian – complete with a handkerchief around the neck, unbuttoned shirt and loud mannerisms. A totally new world-view, different thought processes, different body language and behaviour can provide a much-needed respite from routine and boredom. The study of mind-body connection tells us that our body language can influence our state of mind. So, if you alter your body language to play a comic character, you are bound to feel humoured and light hearted.

Just so I don’t give the impression that playing a character is a simplistic task, let me emphasise that “concretising” a character is one of the quite difficult, yet creatively rewarding tasks of getting into the skin of the character. It draws upon our imagination, as well as our experiences with different sorts of people. Concretising a character means delineating everything from the character’s personality, thought processes to body language and idiosyncrasies. From Sherlock Holmes quirks of breaking into intellectual monologues, to Charlie Chaplin’s goofy walk, every single nuance and detail of the character has to be created, calibrated and enacted. A well concretised character stays with the audience forever.

I feel that it would be great fun to play a character that is totally opposite to one’s self concept. I wish to play a “dumb belle” or a dimwit kind of character in one of my next plays. For someone like me who’s self-concept consists of adjectives such as self-assured and intelligent, it would be a complete antithesis, and challenge to play a dimwit. I am sure I will delight in the experience, as I take flights of fancy into my dimwit character’s world. My mind’s eye can already see the “desi” dimwit, with the silly grin, rapidly blinking eyelids and head scratching when she pretends to search her frugal brains for some intelligent answers. How about naming her Gulabo, Dhanno or Basanti ;-)

Playing this character would help me get out of my comfort zone, as well as build my empathy towards those who are different from me. In fact, theatre is an excellent way to build interpersonal intelligence and empathy. Theatre is also a great way to explore the Self. When we are given a character, an automatic alignment check exercise happens within us. We look at the character and find elements of his personality we resonate with and those that we don’t. The dilemmas and life situations of the character help us delve deeper into our own dilemmas and life situations. And, through this deep dive we learn and understand ourselves, and others much better. By getting into the skin of characters like a villain, comedian, fibber or hero, we are able to see shades of the very same villain, comedian, fibber and hero within us, or in others. In fact, the more different is the character from you in real life, probably the greater is your learning about human behaviour.

I am intrigued by the philosophy of “navras” – the nine different emotions that can be evoked in the audience by the performance of an artist. And, I hope to be able to dabble in all the 9 rasas as time goes by. But, for now my favourite is “Hasya Rasa” and I am happy to slip into a comic trance with my sahelis - Gulabo, Dhanno and Basanti…..want to join me?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Are leaders born or made?

This question has its roots in the nature / nurture argument, and is probably as old as the argument itself. Numerous studies and researchers have thrown light on it, but the truth is not as simple as an equation, as we logical human beings would love to have.

Imagine having an equation like 0.3 genes + 0.5 environment+ 0.2 life situations = Leadership

Wow! That would be the magic sauce for leadership. Since so much has been written on how leaders are developed, I thought there’s no harm if I add my two cents to it. So, here is my perspective.

Are leaders born or made? Let us examine this debate a little more deeply. If we assume that leaders are born – that leadership is all about what one is gifted with as inborn talents and native abilities, we are treading the path of the deterministic theory. This theory says that there is not much in an individual’s control, s/he is programmed according to his genes, and will therefore behave as his genes direct him. In my view, this theory devalues the role of a unique endowment called “free will” – which is the ability to choose our response to what happens to us. This is the ability that helps us make lemonade when life throws a lemon at us. Capable leaders choose to respond in a certain way when life throws a challenge at them. In doing so, they further their own development as a leader. To that extent, leaders are “made”.

Now, let us stretch this argument to the other extreme, and say that it is all about the environment the leader is brought up in, and it has nothing to do with his DNA / genes. This argument denounces the role of the Supreme Intelligence, the intelligence which decides the formation of the planets around the sun. It is this intelligence which decides that one child is born in famine stricken Ethiopia, and another is born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

I believe in the “Genius of the AND” (I picked up this beautiful phrase from Jim Collins book “Built to Last). Leaders are born AND made. It is a unique combination of innate talents, life circumstances and their responses to life’s challenges that makes a leader. So, it’s no longer about nature or nurture. It is about nature AND nurture.

Given this understanding of leadership development, what is the role of the leadership development expert. I believe the role is that of a diamond cutter. A diamond cutter does not create a diamond, but he can cut the edges fine, and polish it so that it sparkles from every angle – fully, completely – as much as it was meant to!

Here are a few sentences I like to remind participants whenever I conduct a leadership development workshop :

You are Blessed

The Supreme Master blesses with the mettle to lead mankind,
Only His hand creates the diamond that can mesmerize the mind,
We, mere mortals, can just make this diamond dazzle more bright,
And, with it, adorn crowns that promise to lead humanity towards light.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Power of Questions

Asking one great question is better than asking ten different questions!

The art of framing the right questions is at the heart of good interviewing for candidate selection.  Hiring the right candidate for your organization is an extremely critical responsibility. The quality of employees hired will determine whether the organization will be a winner or an also-ran.

So, how can you improve your ability to spot the right candidates in 60 - 90  minutes (that’s the average length of a typical job interview)? Frame the right questions to ask, and see your success rate almost double up! 

Is self awareness a common phenomenon?

Contrast the following questions :
Question 1 – What are your strengths?
Question 2 – Can you tell us about a successful project / assignment success in your last job, and how you contributed to its success?

Question 1 will elicit a response from the candidate in terms of what he thinks are his strengths. To be able to believe him, you have to believe that he has a very high degree of self-awareness, and therefore, what he is saying is true. Self-awareness, as we know, is not that easy to come across, so you might be better off asking him to describe a successful situation, and his exact contribution in the success. You can ask further clarifying questions – Why / how / when / who to better understand his behaviour. Then, you as the interviewer infer his strengths from his experience sharing. The inferences on strengths / abilities are based on your analysis of his experience.

Behaviour based interviewing 

The popular behaviour based interviewing technique focusses on understanding how the candidate has behaved / responded under different situations. The basic premise being “Past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour”. Earlier interviews used to focus on hypothetical questioning, e.g., “How would you respond to an angry customer”? 

Behavioural scientists have proved that we humans don’t really know ourselves well. There is a huge gap between what we say we will do, and what we actually do. So, the way to understand a human being better is to find out what he actually did in a particular situation, because in all likelihood, if a similar situation reappears, he would behave the same way as he did earlier. Our predictability of an individual’s behaviour increases if we understand his past. So, a better question to ask is “Have you ever had a situation where you had to handle an angry customer? How did you manage it?” Then you as an interviewer analyse the response and identify the absence or presence of the required job competencies – in this case “customer focus”.

Learn to read the script of the heart and soul

When we hire a candidate, we don’t only hire his brains. We bring in the entire human being into the organization – mind, heart and soul. Indeed, exponentially high performances can only come from individuals who engage with their work, not merely through their minds, but through their hearts and souls as well. Learn to read the script of the heart and soul, again, by asking the right questions!

Ask questions related to passion and excitement, e.g., “Can you talk about a situation when you or your team were really excited about an assignment / project and then some obstacles came in the way? How did you manage the situation?” Along with his problem solving and resilience abilities, you will learn about the passions of his heart – how deeply does he engage with his work, does his face light up when he talks of exciting work – does the passion come through?

Similarly, ask questions about situations which may have stirred his soul. Today’s organizations have a lot of “brains at work”, but need a lot more soul. A question such as “Talk about a situation where you faced a dilemma in terms of a people related decision?”. This question may lead him to talk about his decision making principles – whether considerations of equity, justice and fairness are important to him or not. Again, observe closely to see how deeply did he engage himself with this dilemma. How important was it for him to be fair to people as well as do the right thing for the organization?

Questions which are framed well, and followed up with the right probes of why / how / when etc., can give excellent insights into the core of the individual you are about to hire.

Make sure you use the power of questioning to hire the right candidate!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Watch your tongue (Zubaan sambhaal ke)

A double edged sword, sharper than the knife,
No balm can make whole,
the wounds it wreaks for life.
Be sure you bring forth with it,
words of joy, laughter and love
like holy hymns, from the heavens above….
The tongue is known to be amongst the strongest muscles in the human body. If we ponder a little deeper, we realise that its strength doesn’t lie in the form of its musculature, rather it exists in its function. The raison d’etre of the tongue is twofold - eating and speaking. The first function (eating) is related to physiological survival, a very basic need for human beings. The second function (speaking), is related to a slightly higher order of human needs – the desire to express oneself and communicate.

How often do we pause to think and direct awareness towards the tongue? Awareness that the tongue could hold the key to a healthier and happier life, if only we could steer it better. 

We are what we eat! So, the kind of food we eat can influence our personality. If we eat sattvic food, then our mental tendencies will be sattvic. Similarly, rajasic and tamasic food will generate rajasic and tamasic tendencies respectively. Not just the kind or quality of food, even the quantity of food has to be right for the body. Too much food will not get metabolised by the body, and will merely accumulate as fat, leading to obesity.

And what happens to the tongue as soon as we smell delicious food? It starts drooling! It seems as if the food is calling out to us to eat it. Before we know, we have overeaten. And, with that comes the slew of problems – stomach ache, heartburn and not to forget the discomfort and uneasiness. Famous nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar talks about the practice of yogic eating, which ensures that we leave space in the stomach for the food to move around and get digested properly. To do this, we need to bring more awareness to our tongue, and refuse to surrender to it’s whims and fancies. This will surely go a long way in helping us lead a healthier life.

The second function of the tongue is speaking, and its one that is oft spoken of!

The great sage Kabir spoke
“Aisi baani boliye, mann ka aapa khoye,
auran ko seetal kare, aaphu seetal hoye”
Translation – “Speak such words that calm down your anger, bring peace to others as well as to you”

Again, just a little bit more awareness, a small pause, before the unbridled tongue takes over could help us have more loving and warm relationships. The Bhagwad Gita uses the excellent metaphor of horses to understand our five senses. It says, these five senses (sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste) are as powerful as horses. They need to be reined in so they don’t go amok, dragging our soul along. If the horses are reined in well, the soul which is the passenger in this chariot will arrive safely at its destination, else it will just keep wandering around in circles at the mercy of the undisciplined horses.

Amongst all the five senses, I believe the tongue has the greatest power to create as well as to destroy. Eating primarily impacts our internal world (within our body) and speaking primarily impacts our external world, our relationships with people. Therefore, what the tongue decides to feed the body, and what it decides to voice out can impact our lives tremendously.

Choosing wisely, pausing to think if the food I am eating will increase my well being, or merely the size of my girth. Choosing wisely again, will the words I am uttering increase the love, joy and warmth around me, or will they merely serve to increase the already rampant verbal pollution in this world.

Awareness, awareness and still more awareness…..that is the only way to go. Wish me luck as I try to practice this awareness in my own life and with my own loved ones…….